A re you a birder? Do you recognize bird calls? Bird songs? Are you readying your feeders for winter? Do you cherish your backyard guests? Do you have a birding life list?
Did you know the state bird of New Hampshire is a purple finch? Can you tell the difference between a purple finch and a cardinal? Are you offended that I should ask such an obvious question?
Well, dear readers, I am a new birder. Yes, much as I have heard them, watched them, even fed them on occasion, I am new at this bird thing.
Birds just have never been my passion — I'm a linguist by nature. I can distinguish accents, I can speak Spanish, a bit of Dutch, French and German, but I've never been too fluent at bird calls.
Alas, my life is changing when it comes to all things ornithological, all things bird. All things, well, "wingy."
You see, I signed up to teach about bird watching to children, and I now have several new birders under my, ahem, wing. It's pretty daunting but at the same time, kind of cool.
I do have a vest and some pretty wonderful binoculars. I simply like to dress the part when beginning a new endeavor — and who knew there was birding fashion?
I also know when I need help; mercifully, I attended a wonderful forum on birding last spring at the Harvard Museum of History – where Bill Thompson III spoke of bird watching for children. He's written several books on birds and targeted his program to the younger set. This was just what I needed, as my birding prowess is on the level of a 5-year-old. It's good to know where I stand.
Which is also why I contacted the wonderful education specialist at New Hampshire Audubon, Hilary Chapman. I was exceedingly nervous upon calling her, feeling so inept at my birding skills. Hilary put me at ease and gave me several very, very simple tools to use with both myself and my cherubs.
At the heart of it: Keep things simple. I don't know about you, but I can complicate the heck out of making a grilled cheese sandwich. Hilary directed me to some wonderful websites. One of them shows the parts of a bird; I like knowing birds have "rumps."
But at the heart of all of this birding — those feathered creatures can serve to simply delight, distract and amuse. My cousin, Sarah, has several bird feeders in her Nashua backyard and welcomes two cardinals who visit daily. She thinks of them as friends, surprise guests who distract her with their bright red cheer, flights of fancy, amazing grace.
In fact, Sarah and her family had one very special bird in their life they bonded with and even named: Wormy. Wormy was a robin who grew up in their home, delighted in perching on their dog Baxter's head, and joined them at dinner seated on top of a chair. Sarah speaks fondly of Wormy, who now is back in the wild but who graced their home with that simplicity and joy that only birds can bring — with their flights of fancy, special songs and unique attires.
And while I'll keep my birds outside as I discover the intricacies of ornithology, I shall keep things simple and down to earth and remember what Emily Dickinson said of our feathered friends,
"I hope you love birds too. It is economical. It saves going to heaven."
Susan Dromey Heeter's "Down to Earth" column appears monthly in the At Home section. Her other column, "Budget Vogue," appears monthly in the New Hampshire Sunday News.